Community groups offer plan to counter school closings

Invest in schools instead of shutting them down, groups say.

November 22, 2011

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Nine community groups from Albany Park to Roseland Tuesday presented a “Neighborhoods Agenda for Schools,” a wide-ranging plan that calls for significant investment in struggling neighborhood schools rather than school closures.

Chicago Public Schools is expected to announce this year’s list of schools to be closed in the coming days. It will be the first round of closings overseen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hand-picked schools team.

Arguing that parents and communities have a better idea of how to fix failing schools than “CPS bureaucrats,” the groups said they want guaranteed preschool slots for three- and four-year-olds, full-day kindergarten, revamped bilingual and special education programs, more social services, lower class sizes, and a commitment to keep schools open into the night to serve families.

Several dozen representatives gathered at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association to make their announcement. LSNA has won attention for its efforts to get parents involved in schools.

“For too long, top-down reforms have been imposed on our communities, on our schools, on our children,” said South Side parent Jeanette Taylor-Smith, a parent leader with Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.  “Chicago Public Schools has rolled the dice consistently with our children’s education.”

Taylor-Smith has children at two schools. Both have been rated “Level 3,” making them eligible for closure.  One of the schools, Mollison Elementary, was slated to be shut down in 2009.

“They took us off [the list] and still did not give us the resources. So we’re gonna be on the list every year ‘til they figure out how to resource that school. It’s what’s going on in the building,” said Taylor-Smith, a member of Mollison’s local school council.

In Logan Square, Christina Torres’ children are the third generation in her family to attend Funston Elementary, which also meets the criteria to be shut down. She wants the school to be around for her grandchildren to attend.

“It’s a big part of me, it’s a big part of the community,” said Torres. She says she’s in the school regularly and doesn’t agree with its “Level 3” designation.

In a written statement, Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus says the district is encouraged by community organizations’ demands for high quality schools, but may not agree on the best way to get there.

Among the organizations supporting the “neighborhoods agenda” is the Organization of the Northeast, where Jamiko Rose was director before being tapped by CPS to oversee parent and community engagement. Rose helped facilitate a hearing last week on the district’s school closing criteria.